Francis Wayland Thurston learns there are some things better left unknown in H. P.
Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu.’ What horrible truth does he uncover? Learn more about his investigations in this summary.
Have you ever heard the saying ”ignorance is bliss?” Most of the time we may not believe ignorance is a good thing. But Francis Wayland Thurston, narrator of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu, wishes for ignorance of a terrible truth.
Presenting his tale in three parts, Thurston lays out how he pieced together ”so hideous a chain.”
Part I – ‘The Horror in Clay’
Thurston begins: ”The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” He first learned about ”the thing” when his grand-uncle George Gammel Angell, a professor ”widely known as an authority on ancient inscriptions,” died unexpectedly.
As Angell’s closest living relative, Thurston must sort through the estate. In one box, Thurston finds a strange clay bas-relief, or sculpture. The sculpture seems like a cross between an octopus, dragon, and person–”A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings”–and it is accompanied by unfamiliar hieroglyphics, or writing.
This Statue’s Origin
But where did the statue come from? The answer lies in an accompanying document titled ”Cthulhu Cult.” The first part tells about Henry Anthony Wilcox, a ”thin, dark young man of neurotic and excited aspect.” Wilcox brought the sculpture to ask Angell to look at the hieroglyphics on March 1st, 1925.
Wilcox made the sculpture after a disturbing dream about a strange city and a repeating sound that seemed like ”Cthulhu fhatgn.”Turns out the word Cthulhu triggered something for Angell, and he began asking Wilcox about ”strange cults.” Wilcox doesn’t know what Angell is talking about, but he does keeping visiting to tell Angell about other dreams.
Between March 22nd and April 2nd, Wilcox becomes deliriously ill, raving about dreams of ”a gigantic thing ‘miles high’ which walked or lumbered about.” Miraculously, Wilcox snaps out of it on the afternoon of April 2nd. Thurston finds evidence that shows Wilcox was not alone: numerous other artists had similar dreams that became even stronger during the time Wilcox was most ill.
Part II – The Tale of Inspector Legrasse
Thurston learns why ”Cthulhu” interested his grand-uncle in the second part of the manuscript. In this half, we learn Angell had an earlier experience when John Raymond Legrasse, a police inspector, brought a similar sculpture to an annual meeting of the American Archaeological Society after confiscating it from a group of people practicing voodoo.
This sculpture was of a monster with ”an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings.” Of all the experts there, only one–Professor Webb–thinks it looks at all familiar. He remembers seeing something similar used by a cult whose ”bloodthirsty” religion included chanting around the statue.
It turns out that cult and the people Legrasse seized the statue from were chanting the same thing, which roughly translates into ”In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” Responding to a call about missing women and children, the police found a group of naked people ”braying, bellowing, and writhing about a monstrous ring-shaped bonfire” while the ”oddly marred bodies” of the missing people hung upside down on scaffolds around the camp. In the center of the bonfire, the statue sat upon a tall monolith, or pillar.
Legrasse ended up arresting 47 worshippers. After much questioning, some of them finally revealed they were a cult that worships ”the Great Old Ones.” The image on the statue was one of those Old Ones, the ”great Cthulhu.
” Someday, when ”the stars were right” the priests of Cthulhu could release him.Thurston visits Wilcox and Legrasse’s policemen. Though he believes he is on the track of a secret religion, he still does not believe Cthulhu is real. He does, however, begin to think Angell’s death was no accident.
Part III – The Madness from the Sea
Thurston just about gives up on his research into the ”Cthulhu Cult” when he happens to hear of a strange occurrence in New Zealand.
A ship there had been blown off course by a horrible storm on April 2nd. Only the second mate Gustaf Johansen survived. When found, he was ”clutching a horrible stone idol of unknown origin.”
Thurston travels to find out more, only to find Johansen has also mysteriously died.
But, also like Angell, Johansen left written records. He recorded how they had come across a muddy, slimy coastline of a strange island. On that island, they found a stone door which they opened. Once open, the crew stared into a horrible-smelling pitch-black corridor. Eventually, a giant, horrifying creature ”squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity” out of the door.
It was Cthulhu!Two men died on the spot, and another three were caught by the creature. Johansen and one other man managed to make it back to the ship. Cthulhu followed them into the water, but Johansen drove the boat into its head. The head popped with ”a bursting of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench of a thousand opened graves, and a sound that the chronicler would not put on paper.
” Even though Cthulhu began ”recombining,” Johansen was able to sail away to safety.Thurston believes he will soon die because ”I know too much, and the cult still lives.” He also believes Cthulhu may still live, trapped on his sunken island ”in that chasm of stone” until a possible time he may again be released.
Francis Wayland Thurston tells the story of finding out about the cult of Cthulhu after reading his grand-uncle George Gammel Angell‘s papers. Angell recorded the dreams of Henry Anthony Wilcox, who dreamed of the horrible monster he then sculpted.
Angell also tells of John Raymond Legrasse, who confiscated a similar sculpture from a voodoo ritual. Thurston also learns of a sailor, Gustaf Johansen, who was the only survivor when his crew accidentally released the monster Cthulhu.